Posts Tagged ‘Zoe Waites’

Birdsong, Comedy Theatre, London’s West End, September 2010

28 September, 2010

Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong achieved immense success, but seventeen years after its publication no movie version has yet made it to the screen, despite several false starts. It’s not easy to turn this story — about human anguish occasioned by the First World War — into a screenplay, nor indeed a play for the stage. Rachel Wagstaff has made a valiant effort at the second option, and the first Act, which takes place entirely in pre-war France works very well. Twenty-year-old Stephen Wraysford’s guardian has sent him to France, “An adventure in a foreign land where nobody even knows my name”, to study the workings of a factory, while living in the house of the owner and his wife Isabelle. Their marriage is miserable and abusive, Wraysford gets involved with Isabelle and they fall in love. They intend to run away together, but it doesn’t happen, and during the war when Wraysford is fighting in France, they meet again.

Ben Barnes and Genevieve O'Reilly as Stephen and Isabelle

Isabelle was beautifully portrayed by Genevieve O’Reilly, and her sister Jeanne was very sympathetically played by Zoë Waites. Ben Barnes as Stephen Wraysford in Act I was absolutely convincing, and the interplay between the men and the woman was excellent. But Acts II and III threw us into the quagmire of trench warfare, and this was not so successful. The goofing around between the soldiers seemed somewhat contrived, and Act II felt like a history lesson — it lacked focus and failed to grip me. In order to bring out the horrors of war one needs to concentrate on a few facts, but there was altogether too much here. Only the brilliant performance of Lee Ross as Jack Firebrace carried real conviction, and the letters telling him about the loss of his young son were poignant moments.

photos by Johan Persson

At the end a German soldier finds his way into the British tunnel, but his vaguely foreign accent was certainly not German — it carried entirely the wrong intonation — and Wraysford’s final speech sounded like grandstanding. Such a shame that this brave attempt to put Birdsong on stage, directed by Trevor Nunn, did not excite the audience at this preview, and from where I was sitting the theatre seemed little more than half full.

Hedda Gabler, Richmond Theatre, March 2010

22 March, 2010

If we as humans are motivated by sex, money and power, then Rosamund Pike’s Hedda shows a complete absence of interest in the first two, and her twisted use of power is what produces the final bang in this well-judged production by Adrian Noble. Pike portrays a beautiful, unbalanced, quick-witted but somewhat vacuous young woman, bored after a five month honeymoon, and opposing the attitudes of those around her. Her husband, Tesman is well played by Robert Glenister as a generously enthusiastic academic, apparently oblivious to his wife’s nasty streak, and Tim McInnerny portrays an engagingly Machiavellian Judge Brack, who would use his power to coerce Hedda into a sexual ménage-a-trois for his own pleasure, while Hedda herself cannot use her own power for anything, either useful or self-indulgent. Then we have Colin Tierney’s Loevborg, a brilliant and creative man with an addictive personality, inspiring Hedda to destruction rather than creation as she secretly consigns his masterpiece to the flames.

Hedda’s feminine characteristics are shown to be strikingly opposite to those of the three other women in the play. Anna Carteret is a bustling and sympathetic Auntie Juju, quite different from the lazily cold Hedda. Janet Whiteside is quietly self-effacing as Bertha the maid, where Hedda is an attention seeker, and Zoe Waites is warily friendly as Mrs. Elfsted, whose warm enthusiasm has helped Loevborg to recover from his alcoholism and create a book length manuscript that will stun the intellectual world. Hedda can do nothing to inspire anyone to intellectual creation, and her sadistic suggestion of burning Mrs. Elfsted’s hair off, as she once threatened to do as a schoolgirl, shows how little she has matured in becoming an adult. She is still her father’s daughter, fascinated by guns, and incapable of bearing the child that Aunt Juju intimates she is carrying.

This is a Hedda who can only oppose and destroy what others create, and the whole cast works together perfectly to give Rosamund Pike a role she fills with languid sparkle and cold beauty. The designs by Anthony Ward help create exactly the right atmosphere, and Hedda’s costume reminded me of the glorious silk dresses seen in one or two of Vermeer’s paintings. Congratulations to the wardrobe department, and of course to the way she wore it.

This production continues its tour to the Royal Centre, Nottingham on 22nd – 27th May, the Oxford Playhouse on 29th May – 3rd April, and is later expected to transfer to London’s West End.